How to respond constructively when kids ask for things you cannot always give them

In today’s challenging economic climate, many parents find it increasingly difficult to manage their children’s requests for things they cannot afford. Explaining financial constraints to children can be tough, especially when it comes to saying no without causing disappointment or misunderstandings. Constructively responding to these requests can help children understand the situation while maintaining a positive parent-child relationship.

Responding to Requests:

  1. Listen: Understand what your child is asking for and show empathy. For example, ‘Oh, I can see why you would love that. How cool.’
  2. Pause and decide: Take a moment to think about the request. Consider if you can say yes, no, or negotiate.
  3. Base your response on how your child asks the question:

Polite request: Praise your child for good manners, even if you don’t say yes.
Whining/demanding: Encourage polite asking, such as ‘Taylor, please use your calm/quiet voice.’

When you need to say no:

  • Give your reason: Keep it short, e.g., ‘We don’t have much time now. We may be able to do it next time.’
  • Stick with your decision: Changing your mind teaches persistence in arguing.
  • Offer alternatives: For example, ‘We can’t buy lunch here, but let’s make a snack at home.’
  • Praise acceptance: For example, ‘I liked how you said “OK mum/dad” when I said no.’

~ Reducing the Need to Say No:

  • Set ground rules: Before certain activities, set expectations to reduce asking, especially if the extras are costly.
  • Say yes when possible: For example, ‘If it’s OK with Jack’s dad, he can come over.’
  • Negotiate: If possible, find a compromise. For example, ‘We can’t go today, but we can find another time to go.’

Asking for Things at Different Ages:

  • Toddlers: They can find the disappointment too much to manage as they don’t understand why they cannot get what they want. Many may have tantrums due to limited self-regulation and language skills. For parents, this is always a difficult one to answer, and you should keep your explanation simple. Ask yourself, ‘Do I need to say no, or can I say yes? If it’s not a yes, can I make a simple negotiation?’
  • School-age children: Can negotiate and understand explanations better. They are less likely to have tantrums but may have quite convincing arguments.
  • Older children and teens: Use these opportunities to teach financial responsibility. Discuss budgeting, saving for desired items, and making informed spending choices.

Teaching financial responsibility to older children:

  1. Involve them in budgeting: Explain the family budget and involve them in decision-making processes. For example, ‘We have a budget for entertainment this month. What do you think we should prioritise?’
  2. Encourage earning and saving: Encourage older children to earn their own money through chores, part-time jobs, or allowances. Teach them the importance of saving for bigger purchases.
  3. Discuss needs vs. wants: Help them distinguish between essential needs and discretionary wants. This understanding can guide their requests and spending habits.
  4. Set financial goals: Work with them to set achievable financial goals and track their progress. This can include saving for a special item or contributing to a family outing.

During these economically challenging times, it’s crucial for parents to communicate effectively with their children about why certain requests cannot always be fulfilled immediately.

Helping children understand the reasons behind a ‘no’ and reinforcing that it doesn’t always mean a permanent refusal can foster resilience and empathy.

By using some of these strategies, parents can navigate financial limitations while maintaining a positive and supportive environment for their children. Teaching older children about financial responsibility can further prepare them for managing their own finances in the future, instilling valuable life skills that will benefit them in the long term.